You can hear them before you see them. About 30 four-legged endurance athletes chomping at the bit for another chance to prove their worth and provide you with an ear-to-ear grin that will last an entire day.
But just at the peak of barks, yelps and howls it goes immediately silent as a pack of dogs lead a metal sled into the woods. The dogs left behind realize their turn is gone, but know another shot is right around the corner. They’ll have plenty of chances to stretch their legs.
Calm and relatively relaxed now, the dogs welcome belly rubs and scratches on the head behind the ears. Some chill out laying on the snow, others seem just too excited to sit for long.
And the silence is short lived.
IF YOU GO:
* Weekdays: $85 for adults/$45 for anyone under 80 lbs.
* Weekends and Holiday Breaks: $99 for adults/$45 for anyone under 80 lbs.
* Rides begin at Mt. Bachelor’s Sunrise Lodge parking area.
* Rides start at 9:30/10:30/11:30/12:30 and last about 1 hour.
* More information can be found on the Oregon Trail of Dream website.
If there’s any question whether the dogs enjoy pulling 100-pound sleds filled with people, it’s quickly answered seeing (hearing, actually) just how excited they get as their handler readies a sled. They know the time is near.
The barking begins again. The leaping, lunging, howling. Hoping to get noticed by one of the handlers and hoping to get chosen for the next sled of the day.
“They all want to go,” a handler says.
The handlers choose the sled’s anchor dogs first, moving up the line until the leaders are clipped into place. You settle in to the padded sled and prepare for takeoff. The brake is released, the musher shouts “hup! hup! hup!” and away you go.
On the trail, the ride is surprisingly smooth. And the dogs are mostly silent save for panting you’d expect from the effort required to pull the sled and three adults. They stay on the trail as they wind their way through the pines, hugging the inside snowbank like a thoroughbred hugs the rail at Churchill Downs.
“They’re always in race mode,” the musher says, as he keeps the sled on course.
You feel the wind in your face, along with some snow as it’s sprayed from some of the 40 legs furiously churning in front of you.
The musher steers and brakes, telling tales of the dogs’ past exploits – a 300 mile race here, 1,000 mile race there, the 12-year-old dog that still leads a sled like a puppy. The life the dogs lead training at a 40-acre ranch east of Bend on the edge of the High Desert.
“Good dogs….gooooood dogs,” he says with a smile under brilliant blue skies and balmy temps that have made the snow a little sticky in spots. Still, the Presidents Day weekend’s runs are sold out.
Going downhill, the dogs cruise and need just one stop to catch their breath. On the way back, we stop a couple of times after a couple of steep hills – and you feel out of breath for them. But they need just a few seconds of recovery before they start to bark again, eager to get going. The musher obliges and they make their final push toward the top of the hill and their friends, brothers and sisters who start howling once again at the sight of the sled.
After nearly an hour of hard work, they’re rewarded with water, leftover hamburger, hot dogs and other meats from the kitchens at Mt. Bachelor. They’ll get to rest for a while before heading out again.
You walk up the line petting and thanking the crew who pulled you through the forest. You can help feed them if you want.
And as you continue to smile and walk back to the lodge you’re left wondering who had more fun – you or the dogs.
Oregon Trail of Dreams is operated and owned by Jerry Scdoris and his daughter Rachael. Rachael is a world renowned athlete and had her first Iditarod finish in 2006. You can learn more about Rachael and the dogs in this amazing video.